President Karis: Prime Minister's NATO comments 'unnecessary'

President Alar Karis has called recent remarks by prime minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) to the effect that current NATO plans for Estonia would entail the virtual destruction of the country and its people unwise and unnecessary.

The president has also called for progress in coalition talks between Reform, Center and the Social Democrats (SDE), not for the first time in recent days.

Appearing on Vikerraadio program "Välistund" Monday morning, the president hit out at statements the prime minister made in an article with U.K. daily the Financial Times which appeared online on Wednesday, June 22, in which she said that NATO contingency plans for Estonia being under Russian occupation for six months (180 days) before being liberated would, given the recent experience of Ukraine, be more than enough for the physical destruction of Tallinn's Old Town and the inundating of all three Baltic States.

President Karis told interviewer Indrek Kiisler that: "If you are asking me if I would have come out with such a story, I certainly would not have done so, since I am not in favor of the idea that we are trying to solve issues via the media, while it was known that these documents were already more or less formalized," referring to a Ministry of Defense statement made on June 23 that the information Kallas had given to journalists is publicly available and is not classified.

"Reading [NATO Secretary General] Jens Stoltenberg's comment the next day in the very same newspaper, it was clear that he was a bit disturbed by the comments. Attempts to resolve things should still be done at the table in bilateral and multilateral meetings. I think that most of what Estonia and the eastern flank countries wanted was already there in the documents," the president added.

While the current, ongoing coalition negotiations between Kallas' party, Reform, Isamaa and SDE, now entering their fourth week with no sign of a deal in sight, and Reform's being in office as a minority administration, do not constitute a security threat at present, that could change, going forward, the president went on.

"At the moment, it is not a security threat, but of course, that can change. We have a government, but we certainly don't have a well-functioning government, and I think it is important that one should appear, since these issues that the government has to deal with already to solve today as soon as possible - be it inflation or heating prices, whether we will have an LNG terminal etc. - these are the things that should be in the works now. I understand that officials are doing their jobs, but clear political decisions are needed here and they are needed to be under negotiation right now," the president said.

The public perception was that the situation was indeed a security risk already, Karis added.

"Public dissatisfaction that we don't have a government together is already a security risk in some sense," he said.

That said, there is no danger of the outbreak of physical warfare for Estonia in the near future, the president said, and Estonia is currently more protected than Finland and Sweden, who are only entering ratification stage for their applications to join NATO.

Furthermore, the complete severance of relations between Russia and the West is not the right move either, the president went on, and should not happen at the level of state leadership.

This makes it necessary to continue to have a functioning Estonian embassy in Moscow, he added.

"So long as it is possible .. this should be the case. This was also one of the reasons why I accepted the credentials of the new Russian ambassador here, so that there will not end up being a situation where our ambassador would be called away from [Moscow]. Information can certainly be collected, and this work is ongoing. It is another channel to capture a little bit of what is happening, even in gauging the mood among the people," the president went on.

Estonia went to last week's NATO summit in Madrid to seek a security guarantee, President Karis went on, since Estonia's own expenses and the effective work of the Estonian people and the defense forces are not enough to head off a war in the Baltic region,  "We inevitably need the help of the larger states," he said.

"The desire was that there would be larger defense forces here on the eastern flank, which NATO would guarantee, and I think we obtained this framework. It is also important that the NATO declarations now clearly state where this threat to Europe is coming from," the president continued.

The president also noted that while there was a recently emerged necessity to emphasize Estonia's need for additional NATO forces and additional funding for the EDF, this needs to be balanced against the fact that any strong statement on the subject of the threat of war will surely damage inward investment in Estonia.

Ultimately, Estonian remains a safe place to do business, and Russia is not militarily strong enough to pose the threat of invasion as things stand, he went on.

The current security situation in Europe requires that countries see a slight diminution in the economic standard of living, he went on, while at the same time, a ceasefire in Ukraine is not a viable outcome – since if such a truce transformed into another frozen conflict as in 2014, this would constitute an even larger security threat to Europe.

The effects of sanctions must be monitored more closely for their effects; sanctions which are not effective should be ditched, while what is and is not working needs to be examined before instigating fresh rounds of sanctions, he said.

On the ongoing coalition talks and potential new ministers, the president said that the ideal candidate needs both expertise in their field and political experience.

The prime minister's remarks, in which she said Estonia would be "wiped from the map" if NATO's existing plans were to be followed in the event of a Russian invasion, appeared in the FT on June 22, at the start of the midsummer holiday in Estonia.

The prime minister has made dozens of appearances in the foreign media, particularly in English-, French- and German-language quality publications, even prior to the February 24 invasion and has been well-received in, for instance, the U.K., where she was recently awarded a think tank's annual prize.

President Karis most recently called for progress, or at least clarity, on the virtually stalled coalition talks on Friday, asking for an update by Sunday.

Updates on talks have appeared in the media virtually every working day since they began, on June 13, though no advance has been reported Monday on what was declared at the weekend - namely that agreement had so far only been reached on hiking the income tax-free allowance to the same level as the monthly minimum wage.

The prime minister decline to accept education minister Liina Kersna's resignation at the end of last week. Had she done so, there would only have been six functioning government ministers in office out of the original 14 appointed to the current administration in January 2021. Reform's ministers have been in office alone since the prime minister dismissed the Center Party ministers, on June 3.

The official defense ministry line regarding last week's Madrid Summit is that Estonia got the bulk of what it had asked for, not least the establishment of a division-sized unit, consisting of both EDF personnel, NATO personnel based in-country and rapid-response NATO personnel arriving from outside Estonia, principally from the U.K.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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